When traveling through the U.S., Idaho is generally not “on the way” to anywhere. In fact, it is out of the way from almost everywhere. If you are coming from the eastern side of the country, the most direct route will take you through more than one of what I like to call “100 MPH states.” This means the overwhelming amount of nothingness along the route leaves one absolutely no reason NOT to drive 100 MPH through them. (Aside from the obvious risk of unwanted traffic citations.)
The same can be said when trying to reach Idaho from the south, have you ever driven through Nevada? This state literally has signs stating, “next gas 167 miles.” Also, when coming from either of the above directions, it is possible you will have to route around Yellowstone National Park. Unless of course, you are planning to visit the said park, which I highly recommend. So, with all of this being said, it is easy to see why not many people end up exploring Idaho. And, why we received many sideways glances and comments after announcing we would be spending our summer there.
The fact that Travis and I love escaping to unheard of and out of the way destinations, along with the Covid crisis, is how Idaho ended up on our radar for the summer of 2020. We like to cover all of our bases, so, we brought a jeep, a bus, a BMW NineT, a Husqvarna 450fe, and a Husqvarna TX300.
After settling into the Sawtooth national forest, we soon discovered that all roads lead to somewhere and two-wheels are welcome almost everywhere! The Sawtooth’s terrain was quite a stretch from the backwoods of the midwest. The endless forest roads provide miles of spectacular scenery and endless rivers and streams. We found that several of them come to a dead-end but can be anywhere from half a mile to many miles long before coming to an abrupt halt. And, don’t go thinking that the word “road” has anything to do with the level of difficulty. The number of inclines, loose rocks, flowing streams, giant mud puddles, and deep ruts leaves a rider plenty to contend with.
At the beginning of the summer, we enjoyed the double-track dead-end forest roads and I was quite comfortable maneuvering them on my 450. Travis was generally some distance ahead of me riding wheelies at a good rate of speed and enjoying the snappiness of his 2-stroke. It did not take him long to find the local single-track trails. I made it about twenty yards into the first one and came to a falling-over-stop in the middle of the first switchback. Wapiti trail was a whole new world compared to the flat winding Wisconsin woods trails we had come from.
I headed back towards camp and told Trav to ride on and give me a full report of what comes after turn number one. I was going to need a bit of skills practice and some extra confidence if I planned to survive Idaho’s mountain trails. Travis returned all pumped up from his ride which ended at a fallen tree across the trail several turns up the mountainside. He was determined to find a way to the top on his next outing and I was determined to attempt the trail again at a later date.
Travis headed up Wapiti a few days later, ramped up over the down tree, and made it high enough to find one hell of a view surrounded by a lot of late June snow. Fun fact, the entire Sawtooth area has zero cell service, except the top of the Wapiti trail. Trav sent down pictures of what he was riding and I began thinking that Wapiti might not be the best option for my first Idaho single-track attempt.
Just down the highway, a few miles was the Warm Springs trailhead which goes for several miles up into the mountains towards Stanley. I began the trail doing fine but a tad nervous about what may lie ahead. Funny how the older you get, the more crashes you have, the more confidence you lose. We went down through a stream up around a slight bend and just as I was starting to calm down and enjoy the ride, ooops! The uphill, cinderblock lined, switchback got me. Nothing fast, hard, or audience worthy but, there I was with my bike on the ground and my pride laying next to it again.
I decided to turn back once again with my tail between my legs and let Trav continue his adventure. I rode myself back to the trailhead disappointed and a bit miffed at myself for letting fear take over. Since when did I, little miss “ride or die” motorcycle chick become afraid to ride my motorcycle?! UGH!
The days stretched on a bit and Travis was soon riding over every mountain top he could find. I was growing frustrated that he was seeing all of these amazing places and had the skills to navigate them. So, I made up my mind that I would quit telling myself the trails were too tough and that I wasn’t skilled enough to ride them. I had also developed a nasty habit of making excuses for my incapability like, “your bike is just easier to ride through this type of stuff” and “you have more experience on single-track trails.”
Truth be told, the only incapability I had was in my mind. I had crashed super hard several months before and the product of that accident was me riding my bikes like I suddenly didn’t know-how. I had begun coming up with excuses why I couldn’t handle my motorcycle and that led to making myself believe it to be true. All of this came together resulting in me losing all self-confidence and control of my skills. A little negative thinking can go a long way, luckily so can a little positive thinking.
Then one afternoon, Trav came rolling down from Wapiti and had not only made it all the way up through the snow but had continued down the other side on BlueJay trail. I told him I wanted to give Wapiti another go. This led to him explaining that the top gets super technical and he didn’t think I could do it. (mostly because I had previously said, “I can’t do this.”)
All it took was for someone else to tell me I couldn’t and soon I decided that I not only could, but I would. Trav and I talked over a weekend riding adventure and decided to start out with the Kirkham Ridge double-track trail. This was an all-terrain type of ride, Travis had ridden it previously and said it would be a great ice-breaker for me. He was correct. We left the highway and immediately began climbing up a rocky trail to the side of a mountain.
Not far into the ride, we found ourselves staring down at the hot springs in the river below, (Idaho has dozens of amazing hot springs) shortly beyond that we were riding the edge of a cliff dodging rocks and low tree branches on a rollercoaster-like wave of a trail. The next thing I knew, we were stopped and staring off in the distance at a hillside that Trav wanted to warn me about. It only took seconds to arrive at that hillside and I was ready for it! I climbed up and over and between the giant boulders as if I knew what was coming at me before I got there. I had total control of my bike and all of its power and danced my way up nature’s obstacles feathering my clutch and keeping my knees to my tank along the way.
The trail led us down into grassy meadows, up into pine tree forests, winding down narrow tracks through and over trees, and eventually out to a long winding gravel road. It was a two hour and forty-five-minute ride that was nothing shy of incredible, and exactly what I needed to get back in the saddle again. No drops, no whip-outs, and no regrets!
Finally, a successful Idaho dirt bike ride under my belt. Ahh, that’s more like it! Next up, single-track trails. We still didn’t venture up Wapiti, though I had at this point hiked several hundred feet up it and hung my hammock for an afternoon. I was fairly certain I was capable of riding the sections I hiked, minus maybe two turns on the return route. On my way up I passed several forest workers who were cutting Trav’s downed tree out of the way…he didn’t quite do the size of the tree justice when explaining the part where he had ramped over it. WOW! I would have liked to have seen that tree crossing in action because it was no small task.
We loaded up the bus and the trailer and headed for a camp spot near the Blue Jay trailhead. It was a long 6-mile washboard road back to a dead-end campsite just above a fork of the Payette River. Oh, by the way, all Idaho forest roads can be extremely washboarded out during certain times of the summer. This little fact can make off-grid camping not so pleasant if you need to routinely drive out to civilization for any reason. But, do not let that detour you from adventuring the great state.
Morning arrived as they usually do, we had our campfire coffee and headed up the road to unload the bikes. This was it, my first real attempt at an Idaho single-track. I was ready…and not ready at the same time. We suited up and hit the trail around 9 AM. It was a nice rolling slightly rocky track along a stream for quite sometime before taking a downward then immediately upward turn through a flowing stream.
For some reason, at the point where we stopped in the stream to turn upwards, Travis decided this was the spot he wanted me to try his 2-stoke. So, there I was, about to make my first up-a-mountain singletrack climb on a bike I can’t touch the ground on, starting in flowing water, halfway into a turn. OK then, I got this! Away I went, up the very narrow, very loose, and bumpy path. I was feeling good and of course, loving the 2-stroke but not actually using a fraction of its power and capabilities. The top of the hill came as a bit of a surprise with a tight turn around the trunk of a giant pine tree. I scrapped by barely missing my boot on the bark and trying my best to look out ahead for what was next.
After a few more turns and small inclines, I stopped to take back my motorcycle and gain comfort in knowing I could touch the ground when needed. Travis led the way and I followed along over the rocks, around the bends, across the tree roots, and up the mountainside. What a beautiful place, the flowers were blooming, the grass was bright green, the sky was bluebird, and the trail was being conquered.
We came to a stop about three and a half miles up in a bit of a clearing and the trail was beginning to get more challenging. The two of us were more than ready for breakfast and I was content with my ride for the morning. We opted to head down and hit up the Sourdough Lodge for some food on our way to our next destination.
Nothing shows you the steepness of a hill like riding back down it. The journey down mostly included motorcycle engines off and back brakes on. Thank the world for the electric start. We made it safely to the bottom without incident and I was proud as a peacock at my new accomplishment. I hit the pavement and ran the 450 up to about 70 MPH and was soon back to the trailer. There are times when I love my 4-stroke, this was one of them.
Sourdough Lodge did not disappoint, we soon had full bellies and a slice of homemade pie to boot. The store/restaurant/gas station/hotel carries a little bit of everything and has free public WiFi. Not to mention, the food is always great.
The next stop for us was quite a ways down the road and up another mountain. A week or two before, I had taken Travis to Garden valley/Crouch to find Boiling Springs and Pine Burl Springs. We instead, stumbled upon a single-track dirt bike trail at the Boiling Springs trailhead. This ended up getting us sidetracked and off we went down the single track rather than the hot springs trail. It was decided that though it was a very long (20ish mile) washboard, pothole-filled road to get there, we would return with machines. And so we did.
The long dead-end gravel road from Crouch to Boiling Springs/Wet Foot trailhead has numerous dispersed campsites as well as a few hot springs. Unfortunately, our bus and trailer do not fit well in most of them. So, onward we went all the way to the forest service campground at the end. We were set up and unloaded in no time.
Our previous visit to the trail consisted of about a 30-minute hike one way in and up before turning around and heading back to the jeep. This visit consisted of about a 10-minute bike ride one way before coming to an unpassable roadblock of downed trees. Well…damn.
After some debate on our options of going around the downed trees, it was blatantly obvious that there were no actual options of getting around them. With a bit of dismay, we wheeled back around and headed for the bus. This was about the point when one of us remembered seeing another “road” heading up into the hills. Without being certain of how far back it was we shrugged without any better plans and began to ride down the gravel toward town to find it.
A mile or three down we rounded a curve and there it was. The sign said jeeps and motorcycles allowed so we were good to roll. The double-wide trail was a bit washed out and wound us every which way along the hillsides. Roughly 30 minutes in we tried to find ourselves on the GPS map to get an idea of where we might be heading. That’s when it became apparent that this area held endless possibilities when it came to off-road road and trail systems. Jackpot!
However, for this particular day, it was time to get back to camp and find firewood to make some dinner. We rode back up the hill to our site and got to work fixing a fire and arranging a spot to use the camp shower. Nothing like being hosed down with cold water in the sunshine after a long day of driving and riding. A couple of steaks on the fire and a few beers to toast to a successful adventure, not a bad way to spend a weekend.
In the morning, Travis couldn’t resist sneaking another ride in before loading the trailer. Given my newfound confidence, I was all in. The previous day a “motorcycle only” trail had caught our attention, it was no surprise that we headed in its direction. This trail wasted no time beginning its ascent to the top of the mountain.
I followed Trav through a small section of trees and suddenly found myself climbing a track barely the width of my bike. It didn’t take long to realize the surface under my tires was quite loose, rather deep, and not willing to let me tread up it. There I sat, rear-wheel buried far enough to fully support the bike, waiting for Trav to help me out of my predicament. Definitely a laugh out loud moment.
Once the bike was free, Trav got back on his machine and continued up ahead. I got myself moving and climbing at a decent rate of speed and soon looked up to find him and his bike lounging off the side of a corner. Ooops. He told me via helmet talker to pass him by if I could and not try to stop in that particular spot of the trail. So, with near expert skill, I rolled up and by him continuing my climb feeling great about my abilities. And then, there was a split track around a 90 degree uphill turn. Not my strong point, but, I got myself on the high side of it, made the turn, and…decided to stop and wait to let Travis pass me on the lower track of the corner. Note to self, do not stop on a mountainside on the high side of a sharp corner, and expect to put your foot on the ground. Yep, that’s right, I reached for the ground. It was not there. My bike along with myself performed an acrobatic maneuver fit for a circus act to the bottom of that corner. I landed on my knee and the bike parked itself in an upside-down handlebar stand. Oh if there was ever a moment I wished I had a photo of it would have been then and there.
Travis came roaring up the hill, noticed my situation, began laughing, and then hopped off to help get everything right side up. This trail was off to one hell of an entertaining start, what a hoot! After rolling along for a decent amount of time we eventually came to yet another roadblock. The trail had been consumed by fallen trees, the first few were easily ride-around-able however, the final one was a definite stopping point. Though Trav gave it a hell of a try, burying his tire a bit and sidestepping off his bike once. It was a sign that this ride had come to an end. The ride down was equally as exciting with no other incidents.
I never did make the ride to the top of Wapiti that summer. But, I did ride my first, second, and third Idaho single track trails. And had one hell of a good time doing it! We only tapped into a small fraction of the riding, jeeping, and hiking that Idaho has to offer and I must say it became my second favorite state in the country. Next up on my storyboard here I’ll fill you all in on my BMW Idaho adventures. Stay tuned!